Thursday, November 13, 2003

Meet Darius Somary

Meet up-and-coming chef Darius Somary. Darius was a successful market researcher for over ten years before leaving the corporate world and going back to school, graduating from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Program at the California Culinary Academy. He recently left top rated Oliveto restaurant in Oakland to start up his own business, SpringLoaf Catering

So what inspires someone to leave corporate life for the culinary arts? Why did Darius leave the fast-paced world of a restaurant kitchen? And what's it really like to be a professional chef? Read on.

Part 1 Becoming a Chef

Nurture or nature? Are you a chef by choice or were you born to be one?
Cooking has always been a hobby of mine. When I came home from business trips I used cooking to wind down, playing with flavors. It was the first career I consciously chose, everything else I slid into. More nature than nurture I guess.

You had a career in marketing for many years, what lead to your decision to switch careers?
As a market researcher I was validating other peoples' creativity and I felt an urge to "tweak" and create, but that was not the task at hand. It was to validate that which had been created by other people; not to create. I wanted to be creative myself. But I'm not a painter or sculptor. Cooking has always been something I enjoyed.

To me cooking from an empty pantry is the best challenge. Creating something out of nothing is all about being creative. I learned that from my mother.

You grew up in Switzerland, a country known for fine dining and hotels, did this influence your career choice and cooking?
Yes. The cuisine I focus on now is strongly influenced by Mediterranean and Western European foods. What I'm trying to do is what I like to eat myself. While it was fascinating to look at the fusion thing that's not what I wanted to eat. I go back to honest simplicity through clean, intense and authentic flavors.

I do see the tendency with other catering businesses to use pre-manufactured products to save time but I still believe in making everything from scratch. Though I draw the line at making pastry shells for 200 mini-quiches by hand!

You went to culinary school, how has this changed the way you cook?
I learned a lot of basic skills and techniques and it made me more methodical. In culinary school they always say that what differentiates a cook from a hobby cook is the ability to consistently reproduce a dish and scale it up or down, without compromising the quality or flavor. Applying different cooking techniques can make a huge impact on the final product. Also knowledge of ingredients. For example, learning Asian ingredients, recognizing by smell and flavor. I had to be able to identify numerous different types of rice, vinegars and bean pastes. And identify the origins of those products.